The Storm of the Second Battalion at the Vulcan Pass
21 September 1916 began with a beautiful sunrise and gave promise to positive expectations. The troops had a series of daily marches behind them and now, after they had completely caught up on the sleep and recuperation, rested in straw bivouacs and houses in the village of Livazeny. The morning hours were occupied with cleaning and putting equipment back into proper order, and the afternoons used once more for rest and recovery. There ruled a certain holiday feeling and each person wished to treasure every moment of it. At four pm there was to be provided coffee and rations. For a front soldier this was considered good duty. Then, as everyone had just begun their drinks and food, arrived a courier with the order which the soldiers hated from the bottom of their souls: "Prepare immediately and assemble on the street". The members of the “choir of the eternally unhappy”, of which there are several in every company, began immediately with their moaning and complaining, during which at the same time the silent ones quietly packed their things up as carefully as possible in the short time allowed. As always during such events the always present so called “latrine know it alls" were in action, because there are always those who seem to know more than others. The most unbelievable stories came up because some of the personnel were ordered to bring assault packs along, this always provided for great concern. It was still unknown that the Battalion along with the Field Machine Gun Platoon 318 (Grothues) ands later with the 1st Machine Gun Company belonging to Group Paulus (Oberstleutnant Paulus was the commander of a Bavarian Jaeger Rgt from the Alpen Corps) would all be used for an attack on the Vulcan Pass.
After the 4 company commanders had reported the Hauptmann (Commander) of the Battalion ordered forward march, and with a swift tempo went about an hour on the Livazseny – Zsilyavadejvulcan road. Close to the left of the road imposed the high thickly forested mountains of the border whose high domineering heights leading to the Vulcan pass were occupied by the enemy. The twilight had fallen when a change of direction to the left was enacted in order to go at a right angle around the thick forests through fields and open areas. At the forest edge the command was given to halt. Deep darkness blanketed the earth, no stars were seen in the sky, and the huge thick forest stood like a powerful apparently impenetrable black wall before the soldiers. The person of every single soldier was already stressed because of the two hour march on the slightly inclining approach. The pause lasted approximately 20 minutes, the soldiers began to freeze and were very relieved when they started again. The battalion now moved in “a line of one”. A few minutes later the darkness of the forest had completely enveloped the soldiers. The smell of rot and mould was very strong. You could not see your hand in front of your face. They held on to the person in front either by his bayonet or webbing in order not to lose connection. The soldiers didn’t march on a defined mountain road, but a climbed a wildly overgrown mountain path which had been used by humans maybe once in ten years and then only by daylight. With extreme care everyone worked their way upwards. Calls such as “here, hey, where are you, which way, don’t go so fast, “along with many others mixed with rough soldiers’ expressions were heard throughout the stillness of the forest. The endurance of every single man was pushed to his limits, his whole body trembled through the effort. The lungs wanted to burst, the stomach muscles cramped, the feet and hands desperately searched for a firm grip on the rocks and forest floor. Minute by minute the effort became more difficult, the voices quieted and only the sound of the heavy breathing could be heard. Here a thick fallen tree with an enormous girth, rotten, collapsing when you try to climb over it, next a vine which with repeated determination hangs on your boots, then nest a stone that rolls over as soon as you step on it and then someone falls completely down. It is very difficult when one has the bad luck to fall over a tree stump or a rock. At 1230 in the night the advance troops reached Height 1159 which has been designated as the assembly area and combat preparation position of the Reserve Jaeger Bat. 10. Everyone collapsed. Everyone’s desire was for rest, they were completely soaked in sweat, as they lay on the cold damp rotten ground it slowly began to rain. It was completely dark, they could see nothing and hear only the muted noises of the soldiers who had thrown themselves on the ground. It was almost beyond human endurance, a situation which can be understood only if you personally have experienced something like it. The men had been moving for six and a half hours.
Wrapped in the tent shelters and coats, lying on the forest floor, kept awake by the cold, the troops passed a few hours of quiet in a half sleep. About 3:00 am it became too cold because of the dampness and a few friends with great care attempted to build a fire, first a small then a larger one. The rain fell steadily from the sky and the whole scene which presented itself reminded one of a gigantic war bivouac. The fire threw a larger and larger light into the darkness of the forest. The North German soldiers with their proud demeanor appeared almost ghostly, almost all held their cold hands near the fire and with serious but in no case defeated expressions on their faces spoke about the oncoming difficult events. These were men who had already done their duty while in the heaviest rifle and grenade fire. Around 4:00 am troops began to stir, someone must have given the order to advance. A little later arrived the official command. The wet coats and shelters, as far as possible, were rolled back up and attached to packs. In a very short while the Battalion began again to move in single file, this time along an unforested mountainside. The danger of this path became apparent at about 0530 when the dawn arrived. The men were marching on a stone strewn mountain path about 100m below and parallel to the crest. A fresh cold morning wind embraced the heights and with the awakening of the day also came the former spirit of the body and soul. The miserable events of the night were soon forgotten, and with a new and fresh courage they met the new day. About once every hour they took a short pause, then they had the occasion to wonder over the area’s natural beauty. They found themselves in at an almost dizzying height. Far below ran the road from Livaszeny-Vulcan, it appeared as only a white grey thin line. At their feet they saw only the edge of the forest, which with wild mist the mountain covered and which they had climbed up the previous night. The color schemes were of multiple patterns, the deep blue sky and yellow horizon in the distance, the panorama wide and huge illuminated by the first rays of the golden sun flowed over the mountain peaks which had been taken by the enemy during the few days of Sept 12 till 22. Mixed throughout was flowing the dark green of the evergreen trees mixed with the softer green of the beeches interspersed were the black rocks on the steep cliffs. The beauty of this morning lacked nothing. The conversations became louder and soon the old soldier jokes returned. At about 10:00 am a pause was taken behind a large cliff face. Now arrived the order to assault. Together with the II Bat./187 and the 2nd & 3rd Companies of the 1st Bavarian Jaeger Bat. were to attack from the line 1692 – 1691 the enemy positions which ran from to the 1692 to 1636. Soon afterward the German and Austrian batteries began the artillery preparation. The Austrians had four small mountain howitzers located on the Murgile, located at a height half left and behind of their own positions, while the both Germans guns could not be seen. During the artillery fire all units became informed about the attack. The sense was: "The Vulcan pass and adjoining heights are to cleared from the enemy". At this time plans were discussed between the officers and Battalion commander as to when the coordinated attack would be made on the enemy positions. Many of the soldiers presented their last advice. Anxious faces showed while discussing the dangers of receiving a shot in a full stomach. Others occupied themselves with the newest jokes of Fitje and Tetie in order not to sink into a depression as many of their comrades did. What is the use of complaining? Whatever comes will be handled. If it goes bad then there will still be time to complain. At this moment there is no reason to hang your head. The sun is smiling, the bones still healthy although cold, overall have a good attitude. The bad will be here soon enough. Between a few like minded friends went a lively discussion over the happy experiences of the time. Suddenly came the order to attack. A last strong shudder went through the body, the weapons held tighter in the hand, and with a strong effort a powerful shout of hurrah the 5th Company jumped from behind their cover. The enemy was as if hypnotized. Bent at the waist and with shocked eyes they stared at the attackers until they realized what was happening. Then both sides began a substantial small arms fire. But the best shots were on the side of the attackers and on the right flank they had already closed with the enemy and begun to roll up their defenses. A new powerful hurrah and the attackers were on the enemy. The overcome fled in wild haste backwards over the deep steep mountain cliffs and into the valleys and forests. Some however had remained behind. Little time was taken for the prisoners and the move over the heights against the enemy continued. Further heights were taken more easily. The enemy has lost its leadership and the remaining lines were not strongly held. Due to this they advanced up to the actual heights of the Vulcan pass to 1621 and 1672. Upon crossing of these positions a strong enemy section covered by two enemy machine guns was encountered. Their own artillery had left the attackers uncovered and because the enemy was in prepared positions the situation suddenly became very difficult. Attempts were made to advance along the entire line. A huge roar of gunfire erupted from both sides. First those standing, next those kneeling, then those in the prone were shot. The first wounded had already left the line and the lines steadily grew weaker. Still more dead and wounded covered the ground. The complaining heart tearing cries of pain, call for water and for medics were mixed with the hammering of the machine guns. A German machine gun attempted to get into position on the right where it could fire on the enemy, it was seen by the enemy and immediately after its first shots its gunner fell with a short scream from a shot to his head which tore his skull open. The bravery of all was remarkable. They did not fall back. In spite of this bravery in which many gave up their young lives an forward advance was not possible. The companies were close to each other and in some cases intermixed in the front line. The sun began to set and its final rays disappeared behind heavy clouds. The small arms fire did not slacken from either side, in fact it was just the opposite, sometimes with a wild fervor it increases ands the whole appears as a fantasy brain searing nightmare. With the oncoming darkness thick black rain clouds moved in over the heights and it appeared as if their presence stopped the soldiers ear deafening roar of rifles and machine guns because all suddenly grew quiet. And now, for the first time, they realized the horror of war, their heads hurting and spinning they raised from their positions where they had been lying for several hours. Their arms and legs felt as if they were lead and their brains would not allow the smallest of thoughts. The terrible experiences were too strongly impressed into their soul. Wherever the eyes looked were the same exhausted expressions, even the strongest nerves were shaken by the experience. Afterthoughts however don’t have time to last because there is work enough to do. The severely wounded must be bandaged and evacuated; this work was too much for the medics to do alone. About midnight one finally has time to think about himself. But now its time to dig in. With shovels, bayonets and even bare hands attempt to dig a hole in the rocky ground. All are alarmed when at 0200 a heavy enemy fore begins. Stretched out flat on the ground, the rifle in the hand, the darkness bored through by the flicker of gunfire allows one to realize the nearness of the enemy. It did not last long and the work continued.
After the battles on 22 September there began to show in the following days an overall decline in the combat situation. From both sides however the nerve-racking unpredictable artillery fire continued. Gradually the situation began to become clear. The pauses between actions was used to reestablish unit positions and for new units to organize, to strengthen the fighting positions, and to provide munitions and supplies. The right flank, which had been up till now occupied by both of the Bavarian Companies which were now removed form the sector, was now taken over by II Bat./187t. The Battalion was placed under the command of Group Bauernschmidt. Hauptmann Thomsen took over the command because at the beginning of the attack on the Vulcan Pass the Battalion Commander, Hauptmann Block, had been wounded. In comparison to the beginning to the battle, the fire power of the battalion, due to severe losses, and also due to pauses in the fighting in which replacements were not received, experienced a loss of effectiveness. They were also hindered by the removal of the Field Machine Gun Platoon. For replacement they received 3 Austrian machine guns, which in the course of the following battles proved to be completely useless. The situation, because of its isolated high positioned battle area, became difficult because support from other units was not possible. In spite of this the opinion was unanimous that the resistance would be overcome.
On 25 September at 5,30 in the morning the entire front line of the Battalion and its reserve artillery positions were placed under enemy fire. This action was typical of a preparation for attack. The small amount of KUK artillery which immediately was ordered to return fire was not in a position to do so. In fact, that the mass of the enemy artillery fires was concentrated at 1672, it was clear that this will be the point of the main attack. At 0815 in the morning came the attack of the massed enemy assault troops on 1672, but the 6th Company bloodied their attack waves. Although fresh and great mass of troops the waves of attacks were storming against the German lines, they had to withdraw by the well led artillery fire of the Germans, always new columns of the enemy came to the attack. Because of the support of flanking fire from the right from the IInd Jaeger Bat. the Sixth company at 1672 was able to stop all attacks on its position. After a short breathing pause the greatly weakened opponent during the time from 11 in the morning to 1 at noon repeatedly attempted to reach its attack goals which were the ruling heights of the Vulcan Plateau. Their repeated attempts failed completely during which they suffered heavy casualties. For a while the attack columns halted. After a 5 hour rest period the enemy for the third time made a overall assault. The already severely weakened brave defenders on 1672, who were a remarkable target for the enemy artillery, threw back all attacks. Then at 8 at the evening with the onset of darkness the battle took its normal course, the enemy’s strength was greatly weakened, especially the assault troops who had suffered terrible losses. There were small exchanges of fire which were of short duration. The battalion had a hot day behind it and has suffered loss of precious blood.
Then came the unexpected order from Group Bauernschmidt for the Battalion to pull the line back as soon as the enemy situation allowed.
On 22. September the vacating of the areas taken in the brilliant attack and holding against all the counter attacks on the important passes, including the stubbornness of the enemy, and in spite of the battle conditions and difficulties of the battles, was accomplished in a disquieting manner and overall good order. The protecting patrol of the Battalion left at the enemy has to camouflage by rifle fire and busyness the withdrawal of the main troops across the road of the Pass. They performed their duties in an outstanding manner. The withdrawal of the battalions remained veiled to the enemy because the troops left behind to cover the withdrawal reported that early on the next morning following a heavy artillery fire they occupied the empty battalion positions. The pass height 934 at Meriso was designated as the assembly point for the withdrawing sections of the Battalion, and also in order to guarantee artillery protection. The 5th company withdrew from another direction. The night withdrawal of the Battalion where so many lives were offered and where the attacks were successful on the important pass positions was with the accompaniment of many sad and muted voices. For a front line soldier there is nothing more difficult than to look back over a bad experience at a hard fought for position and then have to abandon it without a fight.
The Battles of the First and Third Battalions at Hermannstadt and Kronstadt
The initial taking over of the Szurduk heights and Vulcan pass was only a preliminary to the larger events which would now play out at Siebenburgen. On Sept 19 General Falkenhayn took over the overall command of the new Ninth Army and with it the leadership and direction of the campaigns against the Romanians on the Northern Carpathian front. Because of the weakened strength of the units which has been described earlier, the tough and brave II Battalion held the pass heights and protected the German movement from Romanian military actions which has spread through the Rothenturm pass in the area of Siebenburgen and now approached Hermannstadt. The mission of the Ninth Army was to attack the Romanian Army and put pressure against the Rothenturm pass. Here the enemy would be attacked by the Alpencorps which on 22 September would advance on the enemy in a very difficult high mountain advance. They would have a very warm reception planned. On the right flank, close to the mountains, stood the 187th Infantry Division with the mission to take the heights south of Guraro-Poplake, then push forward to the general direction of Kisdisnod (Michelburg) – Czod – Talmesh in order to secure the right wing of the Ninth Army and to establish connection with the Alpencorps. On the left was the Hungarian 51st Troop Division which had moved in a southeast direction. However, before the advance had been completed the enemy attacked on the night of Sept 21 and 22 at different locations, also at Hermannstadt and at Glimboka on the Alt river. Also The 187th Inf Brigade located at Kawoka had a hard fight.
Here began the new dispositions of the IR 187. The Third Battalion was in the afternoon taken from Puj on Sept 20 and moved through Muhlbach to Rossmarkt (Szerdahl) and stationed there. They enjoyed a two day long hospitality from the German inhabitants. On the afternoon of 22 September the Battalion with two machine gun companies was alerted and hurriedly moved by train, truck, and foot to Grossdorf (Szelistye) and from there to Grabensdorf (Vale) for support of the right wing. The enemy had already attacked and the Battalion was sent to strengthen the units on the heights 1096 – 1061 – 989. Active patrol actions were made through out the stormy and rain swept night. Early in the morning of the following day it became necessary to make contact with the Alpencorp who were still advancing. On the same morning the Battalion was moved back to alert quarters and once again to Grabensdorf (Vale) until the 11th and `12th Companies and 4 Machine Guns which had been left behind arrived. In the evening the rest of the Battalion followed with the exception of a reinforced platoon of the 12th Company commanded by Leutnant Mueller and Leutnant Meier who later after many experiences rejoined the battalion.. On the afternoon of 24 September the Battalion was placed in ready positions on the southern exit of Kakowa. At 4:00pm they received the order to reach the Curmatura height (1228) and serve as the right flank Battalion of the Division and to secure the flanks of the three Divisions (187th Inf Div, 86th Reserve Inf Div, and 51st Honved Div). At the same time the connection with the Alpencorps would be established and take part in a coordinated attack movement. Using a local inhabitant as a guide, the Battalion climbed steep mountain paths. Through valleys without paths and up steep cliffs which were covered with ancient undergrowth, it went forward in a long marching chain on its tiring way. It reached its goal at night. On the next morning at 10 am came the order to immediately begin the advance on the Valare and by the evening to reach the Ursilui (1306). The initial difficult descent and then climb through the valley of Cibin, which had to be traversed, required once again determination and strong endeavors. With the falling of darkness the point of the 12th Company reached its goal. After a short but intense firefight the surprised enemy abandoned its position. The morning followed a clear starry cold night.
This was to be the morning of the main attack. At 6am the battalion placed the 12th Company in the firing line. The remainder of the battalion to positioned to the rear of the middle of the line. The battalion had barely begun to move when the enemy opened up with shrapnel from its strong position on Valarel (1346). The companies dispersed and searched for cover. The 12th Company occupied the forest position on 1299. Two sections under Leutnant Buchenau of the 9th Company located to the left of the 12th advanced and secured the left, still keeping a platoon in reserve. He had only recently returned due to severe wounds he had received in the Vogesen. A frontal assault on area toward the domineering fortified Valare with its bare approaches was impossible without extensive preparation. The enemy positions were strong and the location and disposition their reserves were unknown. As the situation improved for an overall assault and the Battalion Commander, Major Blanc, was ready, the enemy attacked. He did not advance even though he had new reserves present only 400m form the German line. At about 2:00 pm that further attempts were useless because the well controlled infantry fire was causing severe casualties.
Because now a frontal attack was no longer considered possible, the 2nd Company and the 1st Machine Gun Company of the III/188, led by Hauptmann Haun, were ordered in the afternoon to attack the Valare from the east on the enemy flank. They encountered such strong resistance that they were unable to reach their goal. At 1:30 am the Brigade gave the order that Oberstleutnant Paulus, commander of Jaeger Regt 1, accompanied by a mountain howitzer battery and a mountain machine gun section should attempt a flank attack. In the morning of the 26th September all the sounds of battle and the roar of cannon echoed from the area of the plain and nearby mountains. Around midday arrived the 188th Half Battalion. But in the meantime the enemy left his positions. After receiving food supply the advance could continued over the heights Rinne-Kurhaus to follow the fresh trail of the retreating enemy. When darkness fell the Battalion bivouacked in the forest 2km east of Kurhaus at height 1489. On the morning of 28 September the Battalion received the order to secure the right flank of the 187th Inf. Div., located in front of Michelsburg (Kis Disnod), to hurry over the Gyhan (1411) to march to Götzenberg. A platoon of mountain howitzers was attached to the battalion for this purpose. At the first grey of dawn the Battalion began to advance. The 9th Company had the point. Heights 1422 and Gyhan (1411) were reached height 1315 at noon. Here they cooked lunch, after which they advanced further over the Cretului and Derjany to height 1113. Shortly before they reached the crest a short fire fight took place with enemy troops in the Sadului Valley. The enemy located on point 872, opened fire on the extended columns of the battalion. Dense Romanian columns could be seen on the Gotzenberg (1305). These columns were taken under significant shrapnel and small arms fire. The success of the fire was obvious, but due to the complete unfamiliarity with the terrain and the onset of darkness they set up a combat bivouac. The enemy withdrew during the icy stormy night. A decision regarding the mission in the plain and Rothenturm pass was also made. Early in the morning of the next day the Battalion advanced over the Gotzenberg (1305) then through the valley to Sodenbach(Czod).
While the third Battalion secured the flanks, the 187th Inf Div was able to advance. The first Battalion in the meanwhile had established close contact with the Division line. On the 24th of September the unit rested at Petroszeny, the later on the same day went by train through Puj and Piski. There they remained until the morning of the 25th because all the trains were completely loaded. Later on the same day they traveled again through Broos-Alvincz-Muhlbach to Grossdorf (Szelistye) and then marched to their destination at Schwarzwasser ( Szecsel),. The next morning the battalion was placed as division reserve and transported to Orlat. Here everything appeared peaceful. A mortar battalion fired occasionally from its position in a vegetable garden. The company slaughtered a loose pig and spread it out along with numerous piglets to cook. Things started up again in the afternoon. The brigade was ordered to move to Grunzendorf (Poplaka) and Resina. The Romanians were potting up a tough resistance on the d’ Obrejj heights and the areas located to its rear. The brigade was moved up to break this resistance on the afternoon of the 26th. The 1/187th was placed under the command of IR 189 and moved to both sides of the road at Orlat-Poplaka. The advance moved forward while the village and hillsides were bombarded with heavy German artillery fire. By the falling of darkness the village was under German occupation with minimal casualties. The villaga had been severely damaged, many houses were in flames which reached high into the night’s sky. The Romanians located on the heights overlooking the town kept the streets under continous machine gun fire.
Heavy 15 cm Field Howitzer Bivouac at Kronstadt, Lt Struck, killed 27 September 1916
On the morning of 27 September Romanian artillery began to shell the village. The situation for the Fourth Company became very uncomfortable. The other three companies had dug in to the front of the village. The order of the division to attack was given to the First Battalion. It was to advance in an easterly direction on the north side of the mountains and was to take the d'Oberjii heights. The Third Battalion, which as already reported, was located on the right wing of the mountain, would attack the Volare. After an artillery preparation of about an half hour the attack of the I Bat. 187 began at 1:45 PM. At 4:00 pm the heights 594 (d’Obrejii) and 607 were occupied. The Battalions success was unfortunately at a very heavy cost. Leutnant. Hans Struck was killed while leading at the front of second company. He had led the Company for only a short while with and had done so with great success. He was an overall excellent officer and well thought of. He had been with the Regiment since its inception.
After the occupation of the heights the situation went badly for the Romanians. At 5:00 PM the Battalion occupied point 516 north of Resinar. The Fourth Company was located on the left wing at Kupferhammer. The Hungarian 51st ITD as expected did not advance with them. The overall situation was not clear as night fell. Regardless, height 510 was still occupied by the Romanians.
On the morning of 28 September the Battalion established connection with the IR 189 to the right. While the Battailon 189 took Michelsburg (Kisdisnod) the 187th advanced to the left toward Heltau (Nagy Disnod). Spread out in open formation, occasionally encountering brief fire fights with fixed positions, the companies hurried over the vineyards to Heltau, which the Romanians quickly deserted. One had the possibility from the cliffs overlooking the Heltauer Kalt Bach valley to see a battle spread out over a large view. It was an impressive panorama. The Heltau was encircled from all sides by German troops. The Romanians were under constant German fire as they pulled back to the hills. Around noon the Germans pushed into Heltau and were greeted by the happy German inhabitants. They brought bread, fruit, and buckets of wine from their houses. In order not to loose a moment more than necessary the Greman soldiers passed through the village without stopping. They crossed the track at Heltau-Hermannstadt and on to the hills of the Moicher Forest almost always under covering artillery fire. Here occurred a brief fire fight.
Next came one of the most momentous events of the day. The view seen at height 525 on the Moicher down into the Cibi valley revealed a train track and the street to Hermannstadt on to Talmesh( Nagy Talmacs). Here the Romanians were retreating in columns. The overall confusion was total. Now the German machine guns and accompanying artillery fire was directed there. The Battalion advanced further. They remained in a fighting formation through the forest, over ditches, over hills, constantly attempting the effort to stay in formation. The encirclement of the Romanians grew tighter and tighter. It became more apparent that their direction of withdrawal was the Southeast in the direction of the Rothenturm pass. The battalion exhausted to the ground in a gully at point 450 southwest of Westen (Vesteny) for a short sleep. The results were obvious, the Romanians, circled from all sides, flowed back to the Rothenturm pass.
Prisoners of First Battalion, 187 IR
The next morning the I Battalion was placed as Division Reserve and sent to Pulvermuhle located east of Crod. Later in the day they were moved to Talmesh. The other units of the Division forced the Romanians into the pass. The Romanians repeatedly tried to break out of the encirclement. Upon reaching the pass and finding it blocked, and being exhausted after the strenuous march over the difficult mountain paths, the Romanians were taken over and completely destroyed by the Alpen Corps attacking from their rear. The losses in the Romanian units were terrible. The Alpen Corps had placed a tight grip on the road to the pass. The Romanians repeatedly attempted a breakthrough. German rifles and machine guns reaped a bloody harvest. Those not killed or wounded fell back into the witches’ cauldron below. The panic which befell the swarming masses was indescribable. Horses, wagons, and artillery still in complete harness ran into the Alt river and disappeared into the depths of the water. Cows and herds of swine were jammed into the narrow pass roads intermingled with troops. Approximately 40 Romanian Battalions and sixteen artillery batteries were destroyed. Over 3000 prisoners and uncountable amounts of war material of every type was captured by the Germans units. Two enemy air planes were shot down by sections of the Third Battalion 188th Infantry near Nagy-Talmacs. A report from one of the pilots said that help was on the way for the encircled Romanians:
“To the Commanders of the IAK, General Popovici:
I have the honor to report that the troops of the Second Army were located last night (28th Sept.) 15KN from your location. They will begin to march tomorrow between four and five am. We will arrive with support and ammunition.”
Chief of Staff, 2nd Army
(Abgegangen Kronstadt, 29. 9. 16, 1,30 vorm).“
These help was too late. The first Romanian Army was destroyed, the battle at Hermannstadt was very successful for the German troops. The supreme commander gave following
„I provide to the troops of the 9th Army who participated in the battle of the Rothenburg Pass my full recognition for their shinning accomplishments. The once powerful, now humble opponent was so completely destroyed that his presence in the mountains is now negligible and he will not recover from his well deserved fate. The defeated men who fled back to Romanian soil on muddy paths are no longer soldiers. I wish the same for all the enemies of the Fatherland, this is the strong desire which lives in our hearts. Advance forward to new deeds and new victories for all. This is precious to us.“
The High Commander
General of Infantry
The new events followed quickly. Both of the enemy pilots had provided important information about the dispositions of the Second Romanian Army. It had been forced from Kronstadt to Fogaras. Unable to rest, the German troops were thrown against the new enemy. The IIIrd/187 had been brought, as already told, on early Sept 29 from the mountains to Sodennach (Czod) and from there marched to Heltau. Here they occupied alarm quarters at 11PM. The next day, September 30, began with an advance of the Battalion over Schellenberg, Baumgarten (Bongard), Thalheim (Doliany), across the battlefields of the past days, and on to Haarbachsdorf (Hortabagyfalva). Later on the same day they arrived at the same location as the Ist Battalion, which had marched from Talmesch by way of Schellenberg then followed the same way from there. In Haarbachsdorf the Ist and IIIrd Battalions united again under the command of Major Blanc. The advance moved forward quickly. The troops had no idea of the critical situation which had developed. The situation had surprised and astonished the leadership to the highest concern. The Romanians had attempted a strong and powerful offensive and advance to the east and toward Hermannstadt. On the 29th the 2nd Romanian Army attacked the Hungarian 2nd Cavalry troop from the direction of Fogaras. The Hungarians had failed in their defense and were thrown back from the north of the Alt river to Haarbach. As a result the other northern aligned powers were weakened and in retreat from the enemy. Unfortunately it was not possible to remove the Alpencorps with their attached units from Group von Staabs to assist in the new operation because they were engaged in heavy fighting. On 30 September the Hungarian 1st Cavalry Troop Division was not further attacked. The Romanians regrouped and realigned so they could place their main strength south of the Alt River which would cause the German High Command to redeploy its units. As a result of this the 76th Reserve Division and the 51 Honved Inf. Troop Division .was moved on 1 October to the north bank of the Alt River.
On 1 October the Battalion marched toward Szakadat in a streaming rain on terrible muddy roads. They passed through Hühnerbach (Glimboka) and on to Kalun. The wagons could hardly be brought forward. The artillery had to be dragged out of holes by the infantry every step of the way. The were constantly stuck. The Ist battalion took overnight quarters at Kalun. The IIIrd Battalion, which the day before had remained at forward guard, now took the forward posts as the regrouping of the entire army was enacted. The next morning the three divisions of the Corps von Stabbs began to advance to the north, the 51st Honved and the 76th Reserve to the south of the Alt river. Because of the large amounts of rain, the units could only advance slowly. The 187th Infantry, advancing to the north, was influenced by the situation due to the weakened strength of Generals von Schmettow and von Morgen. They made a positive advance up to the Gross-Schenk-Bekokten-Moya line but were forced to withdraw in the afternoon. The I/187 on, the 2nd of October, has to be the forward guard while the III the Battalion belongs to the main troops. As a result of this withdrawal, the main troops reaches only the village Rumänisch Neudorf (Ola Ujfalu), while the forward guard, the 1st Battalion was only able to advance to Foldvar. The 4th Company took cover and secured the left side of the road leading to the mountains. Nest followed a strenuous march over the mountains and through the valleys without encountering the enemy. They halted late in the evening at Foldvar, without meeting the enemy. South of the Alt river one could see long columns moving further and further and could also hear battle alarms.
Very early on 9 October the Battalion was alerted. They marched to secure the south of the Alt River from the approaching enemy divisions, arriving from the direction of hill 645 northeast of Foldvar. They were to remain there until the situation further north at the 1st Reserve Corps had been clarified. When it became clear that the enemy was withdrawing at that location and the troops south of the Alt River continued to advance, the order was given in the afternoon to cross over the Rukkor pass (668) and advance to Klein Schenk. This was a very difficult march. They encountered strong enemy positions in the hills which had to be cleared quickly. As darkness fell they could see hundreds of flashes from the gunfire on both sides of the Alt river down below. The also received their first snowfall from the wind blowing over the bare cliff faces of the Fogarasa mountains. Early in the evening Klein Schenk was reached. Here the Germans were greeted as liberators. The Romanians had been quartered in German houses. The Ist Battalion, which had advanced along the Alt river, reached Klein Schenk later that night. While en route it encountered a deserted Romanian field bakery which had been left behind due the rapid German advance. The bread was very fresh. Each man received as much as he wanted. It was a comical picture, every man had a round loaf of Romanian bread tied to his harness, back pack, or attached to his mess kit. Also noticeable was the fact that when it was something to eat no pack was too heavy. This was also very understandable. Also while in Klein Schenk they took many supplies which the enemy had deserted when deserting the village.
Kirchenburg, built in the 1500s, located at Klein-Schenk
The opportunity was taken the next morning to examine the interesting old village, particularly the fortified church with its protected approaches and the huge fruit storage areas. The church originated from the year 1421 and had survived the Turkish occupation. The entire army front had been reorganized by that afternoon. Due to the impassable roads north of the Alt River, large sections of the Divisions, included were the Ist and IIIrd Battalions, were moved at Viola over a pontoon bridge south on the Alt. An army road was used for this purpose. The entire day passed with marching. Forgares and Mundra Sarkany were reached only in the evening. On 5 October at 6 AM the report arrived that the enemy had emplaced in strong positions located on the heights of the Geisterwald. Sections of the division had engaged the Romanians at Grid Persany. The northern and southern divisions were engaging the enemy at the Geisterwald. The order was, the Romanians to attack along the entire line. IR 187 with an attached battalion and squadron were at Paro and were to protect the left flank of the corps. The thick fog which blanketed the entire area permitted and undisturbed advance. The artillery fire increased as the fog lifted. While the 76th Reserve Division was involved in a very heavy battle on the right side , the Ist Battalion remained on a protective line north and east of Paro as flank security. Around noon on the 5th of October the IIIrd Battalion marched down the side of the heavily shelled road to Grid. From there it was sent to attack the Bataturii (563) mountains. On the 9th of October this report was in the army newspaper:
“North of Persay on height 563 located in the forest, which took forty minutes to reach of foot, stood confused, without direction, and abandoned the cannons and munitions filled wagons of the 4th,5th,and 6th batteries of the 16th Romanian artillery regiment. In these woods each battalion had tried to save itself but were not able to gain any time. They had only one option, which was to flee from the 9th Company 187th Inf Reg. All their attempts were useless. They had to abandon their cannons to the hands of the brave infantry company. The cannon’s crews ran away in the thick forest to save themselves.”
After guards and security were placed, some conversation took place and time was taken to examine the guns. The cannons were inspected thoroughly. It was determined the cannons were manufactured by Krupp-Essen, the fire controls from Goetz-Berlin, and the munitions from Rhineland factories located in Dusseldorf. The German artillery men who took over the cannons were not able to make use of the munitions, because another surprise was discovered. The munitions carriers, instead of being loaded with munitions, were filled with plundered goods form Siebenbürgen. There were women’s clothes, underwear, white dancing shoes, colorful scarves, evening coats, pots, pans, photos, and paintings.
The goal of the following day, 10 October, was most importantly to prevent the Romanians, now beaten, from escaping into the trackless forests and mountains of the Geisterwald. Immediately very early the next morning the troops stood assembled on the street. From Persany only one roads ran through the mountains, and these had to be used by the 51st Honved Division. The IIIrd Battalion could only march by having artillery cover located at main troop. Only at midday could they continue their advance. The march took them through the wonderful colors of autumn mountain scenery which was bathed in bright sunshine. This was much different than the freezing cold nights they had passed in bivouac. They reached Vledeny at the onset of darkness and set up the night’s bivouac. The Hungarians encountered a strong resistance west of Schneckendorf (Szunyogscek) in the foothills of the mountain forests. Further advance of the 187th Inf. Div. were not accomplished this evening.
On the same morning a detachment under Major Blanc consisting of I/187th, an Engineer platoon, a Field Machine Gun Platoon, a battery and six dragoons was given the mission to secure the left flank and to clean out the Geisterwald. Carts with cartridges, third iron rations, and bread followed. The march through the thickly forested mountains was very difficult. The path was very steep. The infantry could advance only with the greatest care. After only a few hours the artillery and the carts had to turn back. The infantry continued the ascension without encountering the enemy. They reached hill 862 during the night, there they fell exhausted to the ground on the steep crest of the mountain. The march began at dawn. Due to the endless ups and downs on the mountains on the unprepared paths they were not completely sure of their direction. They could state however with luck that the enemy had disappeared. In the night the battalion arrived in Schneckendorf (Szunyogsacek) instead of an Krizba
During this time other troops spread out and moved up into the foothills of the mountains. Further south the 76th Res. Division had taken Holbak and Almas-Mezo. Early on 7 October the advance troops of the 51st Honved and the 187th Inf. Div. forced an entry on the plain at Kronstadt and caused large enemy casualties. The follow up and advance commenced immediately. The IIIrd Battalion remained in their position for protecting the artillery. But when the reconnaissance cavalry at the point reported there were no enemy at Kronstadt, which was a distance of a fast hard march away, and also a pilot reported seeing transport traffic in the passes moving toward Romania, the wait for march security was ended, The Battalion advanced in combination with the detachment “ Oberst Gundell” in an infantry formation. Even though the advance to Kronstadt counted on encountering none or minimal enemy resistance, the battalion, for security, upon reaching through Helsdorf( Holtoveny) the Burzenwirtshaus, combined with the 2nd Machine Gun Company, a Cavalry Patrol, and two artillery sections commanded by Major v Weitershausen. These units were to provide left flank security and were sent in the direction of Petersberg (Scentpeter). In this manner was the left flank secured. The 10th Company with an attached machine gun company swung over through Botflau and also toward Petersberg. There they were to assume alarm quarters and would later be reinforced by the columns of Major Blanc who would arrive through the Geisterwald. He had been delayed due to previously mentioned reasons. Soon after the 11th Company reached the northwest edge of Petersberg the patrols previously sent out reported that the southern section of the town was occupied by strong enemy and cavalry forces. A battery of Field Artillery Regiment 39 moved forward to the entrance of the town and opened fire. This fire was immediately returned by enemy artillery fire located east of the village. The infantry was ordered to attempt, by leaving through the eastern exit of the village, to take the southern heights and to defend them against enemy attack as long as necessary for the threatened artillery to change its position. The steady and unshakable conduct of Offizier–Stellvertreters Kudolko was remarkably noteworthy. The artillery was relocated successfully. The infantry then had to leave its exposed position to the east of Petersberg. The battalion had dug in around the local mill but later the same evening were relocated by orders of the high command to relocate to Weidenbach. During this time the 187th Inf Bde had started the attack to Kronstadt. After a hard fight they forced their way into the city. A particularly difficult fight took place at the train station. The units remained under constant Romanian counterattack for the entire night. The Hungarian 51st Inf Div located on the right flank prepared itself for an attack the next morning. The night was quiet with the exception of patrol actions to the front of the section held by the units of von Weiterhausen. The situation however was not clear. General v Morgen’s troops located to the north of Brenndorf (Bottalu) and in the area of Arapatak were standing prepared to advance toward the flank and rear of the enemy at Kronstadt and weaken their ability to attack. It was clear that by attacking in a northerly direction the enemy was attempting to relieve its threatened Second Army at Kronstadt. The seriousness of this danger was revealed early the next morning, 8 October, when the thick fog lifted and revealed the thick defensive lines of the enemy located at the edge of the village. Columns of infantry with high ranking officers on the horses were seen a various town exit locations. Well aimed artillery fire was placed on them and the columns dissolved quickly. Their rifle line next moved forward, clearly with visible losses, until they came under the direct fire of machine guns and infantry. The enemy was able to advance only in the high thick cornfields to the front and to the left flank of the 11th Company. They advanced up to about 160m. One company was sent forward to stop them from encircling the position. At about 12:30 the enemy pulled back to their own lines except some which had been stopped in the cornfields. Every attempt to dislodge the enemy from this position had failed. Ist Bat. 189th attacked in a southeasterly direction with great valor in an attempt to dislodge the enemy. After a limited success they came under heavy enemy fire and had to halt. The enemy did not retreat but did however stop attacking. In the south a few battalions of the Division were engaged in a bitter fight over the outlying sections of Kronstadt. Powerful enemy attacks on the eastern flanks repeatedly failed. Oberst Gundell destroyed several attacking battalions and prepared for new attacks. At this time, 3:00 pm, a pause in the battle occurred. One could hear heavy gunfire form the north. Next was infantry fire. General v Morgen’s troops were southeast of Brenndorf (Botfalu) and were attacking. The crisis had passed. From on the Varhegy (704) one could see Romanian units pulling back to the east while under German artillery fire. Back at the front the units under v Weiterhausen had become aware of the changing situation. The enemy now was not attempting an overall wide attack. This situation now made it possible for the battalions located to the south, which had been placed there as flank security, to now go to the attack on the city. In this manner substantial advances were made this same evening. The Hungarians, located on the western heights, were left in place. These actions resulted in the majority of the Romanian resistance being broken. The Romanians retreated throughout the night under fire of machine guns located around the city. Complete trains fully loaded with artillery, munitions, and supplies, and whole mountains of plundered goods stolen from Siebenburgen were abandoned. The entire scene could be observed through a telescope. There stood a completely loaded troop train en route to the Tomosen pass when suddenly a group of officers, appearing to be staff, loaded themselves on the locomotive tender and forced themselves onto the crew of the locomotive. Next came a whistle from the locomotive then it with the tender car steamed to Romania, leaving the train full of troops to their own fate.
There are many fond memories I have of the loot. Before the Division took control of and distributed the items, the troops naturally took whatever they wanted. Mountains of cigars, tobacco, and cigarettes disappeared into wagons and field kitchens. These items were to help the soldiers greatly through many difficult hours while in the mountains.
In the early morning of 9 October the IIIrd Battalion moved into the infantry barracks at Kronstadt. The Ist Battalion had arrived the day before after encountering many difficulties while advancing through the Geisterwald, through Heldsdorf (Holteveny) up to the sugar factory at Brenndorf (Botfalu) as the left flank advanced forward. Without having to attack themselves they had, often while under artillery fire, taken part in all the phases of the battle. In the afternoon they served as the Division reserve and only late in the evening they were moved to Kronstadt to be emplaced there. At the last minute they were ordered north of Kronstadt to Kupferhammer where they were able to bivouac.
After a hurried feeding the now combined battalions were ordered to follow the enemy into the mountains. The advance into Kronstadt made a thousand different impressions one could not forget. From the entrance to the city to the train station were lying dead on the ground one man next to the other two complete Romanian companies. A Leutnant from the 189th moved a machine gun section to the flank of the Romanians, set it up and had thereby had the fortune to cause the situation. Beside the scene were old people, grown ups, and even children who gestured to the dead Romanians with balled fists and curses. There was no doubt they had been abused an tortured, especially during the last battle. Others cried boundless joy over their chance of fate and at their being freed. The German soldiers wore flowers on their helmets and battle jackets. Mothers and girls shoved their last fruit and other things to eat into the pockets of the soldiers who had come from far away. The bright autumn sun smiled from the sky upon the surrounding hills and the fall colored forests of the newly liberated city. The bells in all the town’s towers rang victory and celebration.
There was no time however for rest or victory celebrations. The enemy had to be pursued to the passes. The 76th Reserve Division was sent to the Torzburger Pass, the 51st Honved Division to the Tomosen Pass, the 187th Infantry Division to the Altshantz, and the 89th Infantry Division to the Padza Pass. After a short rest the Ist Battalion was placed in a defense line at Dirste (Derestye), the IIIrd Battalion was placed to the rear of it. No resistance took place. Captured enemy soldiers were brought in. Enemy shrapnel exploded harmlessly overhead. The brewery had been burned by the enemy. By Division’s orders they were relocated in the late afternoon to Turkesdorf (Torkos) for bivouac. The point advance at Langendorf (Hosszufalau) had encountered enemy resistance. The artillery had to be relocated in the late afternoon to support an attack.
The next morning, 10 October, both battalions were moved to Langendorf, then that afternoon on to the Altschantz pass. Here the attack was renewed against tough enemy resistance. On the morning of 11 October single companies, then the whole IIIrd Battalion with two attached machine gun companies were placed on the heights on the right side of the road. The objective was to encircle the enemy. After an initial ascent on the Egoldal (1065) the battalion advanced through the craggy mountainous terrain over the Csuklon (1267) and Reneze (1379) without encountering enemy resistance. The battalion then climbed up the pass road and followed 1st and 2nd Companies which has already advanced to the border.About at 9 o'click in the evening the unit was very close to the border. Because a night attack was not advisable and the situation on the hills to the east of the passes not clear, the companies returned to the valley to bivouac.
At the Train Station in Kronstadt First Bat 187 IR. moves into Kronstadt
At midday, the following day the Pala (1109) located east of the pass road was occupied by the enemy. A unit comprised of the 2nd and 4th Companies and a machine gun platoon all under the command of Leutnant Neumann I was sent with the objective to occupy this position and to serve as security on the left side as the column advanced to the pass. The Pala was taken after a short artillery preparation. 19 prisoners were captured. Romanian units and patrols were active to their front but only present for a short while during the cold and rainy night.
On October 12 the detachment reached Mt. Sloier (1595) and at 0800 were the first to place their unit’s flag on the border marker. A few hours later 1st and 3rd Companies arrived there also. At the Schanz pass Romanians engaged them with infantry fire. After a short artillery bombardment the Ist battalion occupied the border crest from the east.
By orders of the high command they had halted there. Outposts and sentries were sent out and the border prepared for defense. The immediate goal had been achieved, which was to throw the Romanians back to their own country. Next followed a few days of well deserved rest after the difficult advance of the past few days. They fortified positions, sat around the watch fire, and enjoyed the warmth of the autumn sun. This however did not last long. A few days later when the crept from their tents the first snow had covered the ground. The Transylvanian winter had begun.
Five days (until 18 October) were passed, during on the Tomoser pass at Predal the fight was going on for each meter of ground.